The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to reverse a ban on sale or use of firecrackers in West Bengal throughout the festive month of November, saying that preservation of life will have to be the top precedence in a country faced with a pandemic.
A West Bengal-based firecracker dealers’ organization filed an appeal before the top court challenging a Calcutta high court order of November 5 banning sale and use of firecrackers as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. The verdict likely means the end to potential valid challenges to cracker (sales and bursting) bans that the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and several states and Union territories have enforced. The main reason for the ban is to prevent an increase in Covid-19 cases, with research clearly linking fire crackers to air pollution (whether only temporarily) and the latter to higher mortality from Covid-19.
Delhi, for example, has been choking on pollutants from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, and vehicular emissions, and used to be a few of the first states to ban fire crackers, which worsen air pollution significantly but temporarily. The ban in West Bengal will be effective till the end of this month and has affected the livelihoods of firecracker manufacturers as cracker sale hits peak in this month coinciding with festivals of Diwali, Kali Puja, Chhath Puja, and Jagaddhatri Puja. The high court order came on two public interest litigations (PIL).
Dealing with the appeal filed by Gautam Roy and Burrabazaar Fireworks Dealers Organization, the apex court used to be of the view that the high court used to be correct in its decision as it weighed the need of preserving life at a time of pandemic. “We are in a situation where preservation of life is the only precedence. We have a substantial amount of deference to what the high court does as the judges there are conscious of the situation on ground,” said a bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee.
A minimum of seven states and Union territories have banned crackers with another five allowing their bursting only for a limited time. On Monday, the NGT ruled that no crackers would be allowed to be burst in cities where the air quality in November (based on final year’s average) used to be in “bad” category or worse. There are a minimum of 42 cities that meet this criteria, according to HT’s analysis of 110 cities that are featured in the Central Pollution Keep watch over Board day by day pollution bulletin. Most bans have come into effect and final till the end of November.
Senior advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar, appearing for the firework dealers informed the top court that the high court had no empirical data for denying permission for sale or use of crackers. He referred to a recent order passed by the NGT which allowed green crackers for use for limited hours in places where air quality is moderate. He pointed out that final year the SC permitted crackers to be burst on festival days for two hours at designated places.
Interestingly, according to the NGT criteria, Kolkata’s air quality used to be in “bad” category final November, because of this crackers are banned there this year.
The bench used to be especially concerned approximately the health of the elderly who were more vulnerable to breathing problems caused by smoke released from crackers which may be life-threatening throughout the pandemic.
“We all have elderly people at our homes. Whether something contributes to preserving life of our elderly, let us sign up for together in the interest of the community,” the bench of justices Chandrachud and Banerjee said.